1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Praetorius, Michael

PRAETORIUS, MICHAEL (1571–1621), German .musical historian, theorist and composer, was born at Kreuzberg, in Thuringia, on the 15th of February 1571. His father's name was Michael Schultheis.[1] While he was still quite young he visited the university of Frankfort on the Oder for three years. Here he studied philosophy, and on the death of his brother, on whose support he relied, he was given a post as organist in the town. He acted as kapellmeister at Lüneburg early in life, was engaged first as organist and later as kapellmeister and secretary to the duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbiittel, and was eventually rewarded for his long services with the priory of Ringelheim, near Goslar. He died at Wolfenbüttel on the 15th of February 1621. Of his very numerous compositions copies are now very scarce. The most important are: Polyhymnia (15 vols.), Musae Sioniae (16 vols.), and Musa Aonia (9 vols), all written partly to Latin and partly to German words. But more precious than all these is the Syntagma musicum (3 vols. and a cahier of plates, 4to, Wittenberg and Wolfenbüttel, 1615–1620). In the original prospectus of the work four volumes were promised, but it is certain that no more than three were ever published. The fourth volume mentioned in Forkel's catalogue is clearly nothing but the cahier of plates attached to vol. ii.

The chief value of this very remarkable work lies in the information it gives concerning the condition of instrumental music in the early years of the 17th century. The plates include excellent representations of all the musical instruments in use at the time they were published, together with many forms even then treated only as antique curiosities. The work thus throws a light upon the earlier forms of instrumental music which to the historian is invaluable. In fact, without the information bequeathed to us by Praetorius it would be impossible to reconstruct in theory the orchestra of the earlier half of the 17th century, during which the opera and the oratorio both sprang into existence, or even to understand the descriptions left us by other less careful writers.

  1. German Schultz or Schultze (Schultheiss), meaning the head-man of a township, latinized into praetor or praetorius. Many other members of the family of Praetorius were eminent as musicians.